"They've already sent back, or in the process of sending back, the remains of our great heroes who died in North Korea during the war," said US President Donald Trump Thursday, the New York Times reported. Almost 40,000 Americans died in the Korean War, between 1950 and 1953, while nearly 5 million Koreans died. An estimated 5,300 US soldiers' bodies were left behind as the US retreated from the North. This is the first effort to repatriate remains since 2005.
The US military began moving 100 wooden "temporary transit cases" to the demilitarized zone (DMZ) between North and South Korea Saturday to receive the remains of possibly up to 250 American servicemen whose bodies were left behind during the North Korean-Chinese offensive that pushed the US and allied forces out of North Korea in the final months of the war, NYT reported. Separately, the US has also moved 158 metal coffins to Osan Air Base, south of Seoul, South Korea.
The handover will happen in Panmunjom, the so-called "truce village" that straddles the DMZ and which commonly hosts peace gestures and negotiations since it's seen as neutral ground. It was here that the first steps toward normalization of diplomatic relations with the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK), as North Korea is officially known, were made last April when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean President Moon Jae In hammered out the framework for denuclearization and peace on the peninsula.
"The path to thoroughly implementing the North-U.S. joint statement is the path to securing the common interests of the peoples of the two countries, and peace, security and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula and in the world," said DPRK Today, Yonhap News reported.
"It is our firm, unwavering position to open a new future for world peace and security," said Uriminzokkiri, a North Korean website that publishes dispatched from Korean Central News Agency (KCNA). "By faithfully implementing the joint statement that North Korea and the US have announced, we will conscientiously fulfill our responsibility to address decades-long tensions and hostile relations and open a new era of the North-US cooperation."
The agreement Trump and Kim reached in Singapore June 12 had four main points, the Guardian reported at the time:
1: "The United States and the DPRK commit to establish new US-DPRK relations in accordance with the desire of the peoples of the two countries for peace and prosperity."
2: "The United States and the DPRK will join their efforts to build a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula."
3: "Reaffirming the April 27, 2018 Panmunjom Declaration, the DPRK commits to work towards complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula."
4: "The United States and the DPRK commit to recovering POW/MIA remains, including the immediate repatriation of those already identified."
The fourth point is what is now being fulfilled; the DPRK now expects the US to honor its end of the bargain and begin moving toward the other three points.
The DPRK has already made strides toward addressing those points as well, having suspended all nuclear and missile tests this year, destroying its primary nuclear weapons test site as well as a rocket engine test site, Sputnik reported.
The US and South Korea recently suspended their large scale joint military exercises scheduled for August indefinitely, Sputnik reported, as well as two small-scale joint Marine drills scheduled between July and September. Pyongyang has long condemned these exercises and rehearsals for an invasion of the North and as a provocative gesture.
The remains of "an estimated 5,300 missing American service members are in North Korea and potentially recoverable," according to Stars and Stripes.
No permanent peace treaty exists between the US, South Korea and North Korea; only a cease-fire was agreed upon in 1953 — this is why, in part, the diplomatic situation on the peninsula has remained so tense and why the quest for "a lasting and stable peace regime" are so pertinent.
However, several soldier remains repatriations have occurred over the years. In 1954, North Korea returned the remains of more than 3,000 American soldiers, while from 1990 to 1994 they exhumed and returned 208 boxes of remains, according to the Defense POW/MIA Accounting Agency. Between 1996 and 2005, further field searches yielded more than 220 sets of remains, but after 2005 efforts to identify further US soldier remains were suspended as the diplomatic relationship between the US and DPRK soured.